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November 14, 2006, 5:07 AM CT

SimCity for real

SimCity for real
Social policy makers and town planners will soon be able to play 'SimCity' for real using grid computing and e-Science techniques to test the consequences of their policies on a real, but anonymous, model of the UK population. Dr Mark Birkin and colleagues, who are developing the model at the University of Leeds, will be demonstrating its potential at the UK e-Science stand at SC06, the world's largest supercomputing conference in Florida, this week.

They are using data recorded at the 2001 census to build a model of the whole UK population, but with personal details omitted so no individual or household can be identified. Their project, Modelling and Simulation for e-Social Science is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council National Centre for e-Social Science. "We're building a core model which represents the whole of the UK at the level of (synthetic) individuals and households with many attributes and behaviours," says Dr Birkin.

Data about these attributes - such as car ownership, house prices and use of health, education, transport and leisure facilities - are held by different agencies in different locations and often in different formats. "Historically, people have assembled data on a single PC or workstation. E-Science provides exciting opportunities to access multiple databases from remote, virtual locations, making it possible to develop highly generic simulation models which are easy to update," says Dr Birkin.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

November 10, 2006, 5:14 AM CT

Memories: It's All In The Packaging

Memories: It's All In The Packaging
Researchers at UC Irvine have found that how much detail one remembers of an event depends on whether a certain portion of the brain is activated to "package" the memory.

The research may help to explain why sometimes people only recall parts of an experience such as a car accident, and yet vividly recall all of the details of a similar experience.

In experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the scientists were able to view what happened in the brains of subjects when they experienced an event made up of multiple contextual details. They found that participants who later remembered all aspects of the experience, including the details, used a particular part of the brain that bound the different details together as a package at the time the event occurred. When this brain region wasn't activated to bind together the details, only some aspects of an event were recalled. The findings are published in the current issue of Neuron.

"This study provides a neurological basis for what psychologists have been telling us for years," said Michael Rugg, director of UCI's Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and senior author of the paper. "You can't get out of memory what you didn't put into it. It is not possible to remember things later if you didn't pay attention to them in the first place".........

Posted by: Nora      Permalink         Source

November 10, 2006, 4:54 AM CT

Eye Of A Monster Storm On Saturn

Eye Of A Monster Storm On Saturn
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has seen something never before seen on another planet -- a hurricane-like storm at Saturn's south pole with a well-developed eye, ringed by towering clouds.

The "hurricane" spans a dark area inside a thick, brighter ring of clouds. It is approximately 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) across, or two thirds the diameter of Earth.

"It looks like a hurricane, but it doesn't behave like a hurricane," said Dr. Andrew Ingersoll, a member of Cassini's imaging team at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "Whatever it is, we're going to focus on the eye of this storm and find out why it's there".

A movie taken by Cassini's camera over a three-hour period reveals winds around Saturn's south pole blowing clockwise at 550 kilometers (350 miles) per hour. The camera also saw the shadow cast by a ring of towering clouds surrounding the pole, and two spiral arms of clouds extending from the central ring. These ring clouds, 30 to 75 kilometers (20 to 45 miles) above those in the center of the storm, are two to five times taller than the clouds of thunderstorms and hurricanes on Earth.

Eye-wall clouds are a distinguishing feature of hurricanes on Earth. They form where moist air flows inward across the ocean's surface, rising vertically and releasing a heavy rain around an interior circle of descending air that is the eye of the storm itself. Though it is uncertain whether such moist convection is driving Saturn's storm, the dark "eye" at the pole, the eye-wall clouds and the spiral arms together indicate a hurricane-like system.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source

November 10, 2006, 4:24 AM CT

Making Robotic Movement More Acceptable

Making Robotic Movement More Acceptable Making Robotic Movement More Acceptable
Robots running amok and destroying property may be a staple in science fiction films, but they aren't welcome in factories, warehouses and other places where automatic guided vehicle (AGV) forklifts are used. Under a cooperative research and development agreement with Transbotics, a Charlotte, N.C., AGV manufacturer, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is developing advanced sensor processing and modeling algorithms to help robot forklifts verify the location and orientation of pallets laden with goods.

The experimental system utilizes two onboard, single scan-line LADAR devices to negotiate obstacles and hone in on warehouse pallets. (LADAR--Laser Detection and Ranging--is an optical technology which measures properties of scattered laser light to find range and other information about a distant target.) One LADAR device, located at the base of the AGV, is used as a safety sensor to detect obstacles such as humans in the forklift's path. It also can be used to scan inside a truck's cargo area to detect the presence of a pallet or define distances from the forklift to the truck's inside walls.

The other sensor, called the Panner, is a panning laser ranger mounted on a rotating motor at the top front of the AGV. The Panner acquires a number of scan lines of range data that allows the scene in front of the device to be reconstructed in various visual formats such as a pseudo-colored coded image (where colors indicate relative proximity to an object) or a 3-dimensional data point "cloud." A computer model is then derived from the data with the output sent immediately to the AGV's control center. This allows the robot forklift to maneuver, load and unload pallets, verify the remaining space within the truck being loaded, and track the number of pallets still needing handling.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

November 10, 2006, 4:15 AM CT

Audio Telescope Heeds Call Of The Wild Birds

Audio Telescope Heeds Call Of The Wild Birds Audio telescope" system uses three separate processing boards to digitize the input from an array of 192 microphones.
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Intelligent Automation, Inc. (Rockville, Md.) and the University of Missouri-Columbia have modified a NIST-designed microphone array to make an "audio telescope" that could help airports more efficiently avoid costly and hazardous bird-aircraft collisions by locating and identifying birds by their calls. The prototype system was described in a recent paper.*.

From chirps to trills, bird song usually is soothing and restful--unless you're a pilot. Collisions with birds in flight, called "bird strikes," caused over $2 billion worth of damage to aircraft in the United States or U.S. aircraft abroad, since 1990, according to statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration. Worldwide, wildlife strikes --mostly birds--have destroyed more than 163 aircraft and killed more than 194 people since 1988.

Airports fight back with X-band radar and infrared cameras to monitor birds, but neither technology can distinguish between different kinds of birds, particularly in bad weather. That's important because not all birds are equally hazardous to aircraft, and shutting down runways because of the proximity of unknown birds imposes its own costs in delays and increased aircraft congestion. The "audio telescope" proposed by NIST and IAI researchers is a one-meter-diameter concentric array of 192 microphones that would be mounted parallel to the ground to listen to the skies. By comparing the arrival time of sounds at different microphones, the array can determine the direction from which the sound came, even distinguishing simultaneous sounds coming from different directions. The researchers adapted mathematical algorithms designed to allow speech recognition systems to identify different speakers in order to distinguish different species by their calls. The system can tell a Canada goose from a gull or a hawk within a couple of seconds.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source

November 10, 2006, 4:06 AM CT

Firefighters Face Increased Risk Of Cancers

Firefighters Face Increased Risk Of Cancers
University of Cincinnati (UC) environmental health researchers have determined that firefighters are significantly more likely to develop four different types of cancer than workers in other fields.

Their findings suggest that the protective equipment firefighters have used in the past didn't do a good job in protecting them against cancer-causing agents they encounter in their profession, the researchers say.

The researchers found, for example, that firefighters are twice as likely to develop testicular cancer and have significantly higher rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and prostate cancer than non-firefighters. The researchers also confirmed previous findings that firefighters are at greater risk for multiple myeloma.

Grace LeMasters, PhD, Ash Genaidy, PhD, and James Lockey, MD, report these findings in the November edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The UC-led study is the largest comprehensive study to date investigating cancer risk associated with working as a firefighter.

"We believe there's a direct correlation between the chemical exposures firefighters experience on the job and their increased risk for cancer," says LeMasters, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UC.

Firefighters are exposed to many compounds designated as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)--including benzene, diesel engine exhaust, chloroform, soot, styrene and formaldehyde, LeMasters explains. These substances can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and occur both at the scene of a fire and in the firehouse, where idling diesel fire trucks produce diesel exhaust.........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source

November 8, 2006, 9:40 PM CT

Nanoparticle Hold Promise in Reducing Radiation Side Effects

Nanoparticle Hold Promise in Reducing Radiation Side Effects
With the help of tiny, transparent zebrafish embryos, researchers at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Medical College are hoping to prove that a microscopic nanoparticle can be part of a "new class of radioprotective agents" that help protect normal tissue from radiation damage just as well as standard drugs.

Reporting November 7, 2006 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology in Philadelphia, they show that the nanoparticle, DF-1 - a soccer ball-shaped, hollow, carbon-based structure known as a fullerene - is as good as two other antioxidant drugs and the FDA-approved drug, Amifostine in fending off radiation damage from normal tissue.

The scientists, led by Adam Dicker, M.D., Ph.D., professor of radiation oncology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center, and Ulrich Rodeck, M.D., professor of dermatology at Jefferson Medical College, compared DF-1 to two superoxidase dismutase mimetics, which are antioxidant drugs. They exposed zebrafish embryos to radiation with either DF-1 or a sod or amifostine. Each of the three markedly reduced radiation damage and increased overall survival and was comparable to the protection provided by the Amifostine.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

November 7, 2006, 10:47 PM CT

Ethanol Production From Plant Fiber

Ethanol Production From Plant Fiber John Verkade, left, a University Professor of chemistry at Iowa State, and Reed Oshel, a graduate student in biorenewable resources and technology, are studying a chemical compound that breaks down plant fiber.
John Verkade remembers just how it happened some 40 years ago: One of his Iowa State University graduate students, David Hendricker, stopped by to report somebody was stealing a little wooden applicator stick from a beaker.

Oh, Verkade said, that's just a prank. Go hide around the corner and do some peeking until the joker shows up again. Thirty minutes later Hendricker was back in Verkade's office.

"You've got to see this," Verkade remembers him saying.

What they saw was a wooden stick falling apart and sinking into the chemical compound that had been the basis for Verkade's doctoral dissertation.

"That's an interesting observation," Verkade said at the time.

It was so interesting he asked Iowa State to consider a patent application. But that was a long time before breaking down plant fibers to produce ethanol was associated with energy independence and national security. So the university didn't move on a patent back then. And Verkade, now a University Professor in chemistry, moved on with his work in catalysis and molecular design.

A few years ago, George Kraus, another University Professor of chemistry at Iowa State, brought up Verkade's story of the dissolving wood. He said that compound could be a way to break down the tough cellulose that forms the structure of a plant's cell walls. Breaking down the cellulose can release the simple sugars that are fermented into ethanol. Making that happen could add some value to Iowa crops or the fibrous co-products of ethanol production.........

Posted by: John      Permalink         Source

November 7, 2006, 4:20 AM CT

Green Plants Share Bacterial Toxin

Green Plants Share Bacterial Toxin Green fluorescence shows lipid A, previously known only as a toxin from bacteria, in leaves from pea seedlings. ((Peter Armstrong/UC Davis photo)
A toxin that can make bacterial infections turn deadly is also found in higher plants, scientists at UC Davis, the Marine Biology Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass. and the University of Nebraska have found. Lipid A, the core of endotoxin, is located in the chloroplasts, structures that carry out photosynthesis within plant cells.

The lipid A in plant cells is evidently not toxic. The human intestine contains billions of Gram-negative bacteria, but lipid A does not become a problem unless bacteria invade the bloodstream.

"We've no idea what it's doing, but it must be something important because it's been retained for a billion years of evolution of plant chloroplasts," said Peter Armstrong, professor of molecular and cellular biology at UC Davis and senior author on the paper.

Endotoxin is better known to bacteriologists and physicians as part of the outer coat of Gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli. The lipid A core of bacterial endotoxin activates the immune system and can cause septic shock, a major cause of death from infection. It is distinct from the toxin found in E. coli strain 0157, responsible for the recent outbreak of food poisoning tied to spinach.

Bacteria were believed to be the only source of lipid A. However, R.L. Pardy, professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, recently found a similar molecule in Chlorella, a single-celled relative of more advanced plants. Armstrong's lab at UC Davis developed methods to visualize lipid A in cells, using a protein from the immune system of the horseshoe crab, and the scientists began collaborating.........

Posted by: Nora      Permalink         Source

November 6, 2006, 9:11 PM CT

Could You Explain The Origins Of The Universe?

Could You Explain The Origins Of The Universe?
Formative Evaluation of the Large Hadron Collider Communications Project.

PPARC has commissioned research that asked adults, teachers and young people about their interest in, knowledge of and concerns about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project. Due to start in late 2007, at CERN, Geneva, it will be one of the largest experiments in the history of science, and will investigate the Origin of the Universe.

Dr Ray Mathias (UK LHC Communications Manager) said "The research, which used focus groups and in-depth interviews, revealed a lot of interest, especially through links to the Big Bang, spin-offs to the healthcare sector, and human-interest stories, particularly those involving British scientists and engineers. These findings will guide how we invest in different outreach activities. The UK is contributing over 300M to the LHC, and we have a responsibility to engage the public in understanding and debating the excitement, implications and costs of the project".........

Posted by: Edwin      Permalink         Source

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